Suburban Snapshots

My Nana Would Not Suggest Grapefruiting

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Women, friends, wives: I'm about to level with you. I'm going to tear a page from my Nana's playbook and tell you how to please your man. This does not in any way require you to purchase a grapefruit but go for yours if that's your thing (I'll want a review.)

Y'all have to stop re-loading the dishwasher and re-folding the damn laundry. Girl. Your husband thinks he's doing something pleasing to you, and when you come and un-do it like that he's left feeling incompetent and unappreciated. Now don't kiss his ass for folding a few hand towels, but hold on the criticism or wait until he's out of the house to wash everything again with the right fabric softener. I die a little inside when Steve inevitably holds up something of mine that went through the dryer, but you know what? I probably shouldn't have tossed it into the hamper like a lazy twat.

The same goes for raising your kids together. Listen, Steve does plenty of things in ways I never would. We were parented differently and it affects how we each handle Anna. Obviously I'm right in my criticism 100% of the time, but I still let him do his thing. Sometimes this means biting my tongue bloody to keep myself from contradicting him. If your child is not in peril, if your husband isn't being an enormous jerk, if the real issue is that he's not doing it the way you'd do it, take a breath. Let him handle it. If something he does really bothers you, bring it up later, directly. I find, "She was a real pill today, I just think you might have been a little harsh" works better than, "Why not send her to Guantanamo next time?" or "Were you raised in an Eastern Bloc orphanage?"

You have to let your man be a man. I once reprimanded a smart, hilarious blogger friend who "couldn't leave the house" because her husband had taken over kid duty and naturally, there was utter mutiny. I reminded her that she married an adult, that he helped father these children, and regardless of having two kids clawing at him like an open car window on a chimp safari, he was totally capable of managing them in her absence. So she got to go out and he was left to feel capable and needed. I assume she came home buzzed and got lucky.

A few weeks ago Steve and I were arguing about money or he was nagging me about how hard I hit the brakes or some crap and I said, "Listen, when you want to criticize something, think about whether it'll achieve any result other than pissing me off." We all choose parenting battles, if we didn't we'd be correcting our kids constantly and pouring vodka in their our Cheerios. This applies to marriage too—for today I'll ignore the shirts he left on the dining room table because I want to talk to him about his parenting grenades.

I realize I'm coming from a specific set of circumstances: one kid, a hard-working husband, and a sense of humor to temper my frustrations, but I've definitely done things to make Steve feel less like a million bucks and more like the sticky Canadian dime that lives at the bottom of my purse. I'm sure that sometimes I still do; marriage has a huge learning curve. I also know that you all are pretty spectacular and probably not married to assholes. Your men are capable of work and their work—like yours—deserves appreciation.

Just like kids, I believe adults try to live up to the best you see in them. Because of kids, couples sometimes have trouble just seeing each other at all. We can expect more from our spouses and show that we believe they can handle it. Then maybe, maybe the grapefruit.

How to Be Married to a Blogger

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My husband has come to tolerate a lot from me because of this blogging gig. He still doesn't love my after-hours on the laptop, my constant online communication because, "There's a really hilarious conversation happening in my blogger group right now," or the way I put lots of our personal stuff on blast, but he supports me and loves me, and he knows that somehow I find this mostly pro bono gig pretty fulfilling.

Understand that Steve is a quiet guy; it took me six months of living in the same 500 square foot apartment with him before we ever uttered two words to each other. I didn't know he had a family until we'd already made out under a halogen lamp on a filthy sofa the way you only do in your 20s. He's quiet and his tastes run toward short women in tube socks on skateboards, and yet he seems to appreciate my big frame and bigger mouth. But he didn't really sign up for the Mr. Snapshots gig and I give him a lot of credit for letting me run this production pretty much as I please (I always check with him before I share anything sensitive, like the marriage counseling stuff or the vasectomy.)

Last week when the parody I created started to appear on national television, he walked over to me, put his hands on my hips and whimpered, "Honey? Can you please not get famous?" Steve works in a blue collar job with big, bearded men who spend their days hauling, lifting and smoking, and it's understandably awkward when a guy in the garage asks, "Hey Steve, your wife gonna make any more videos?" Because that can't not sound like I run a porn empire from my guest room.

Being my husband isn't easy work, so I've got the want ad all ready in case he ever decides it's just too much.

My sincerest thanks to our blog-widow spouses who do the dishes while we struggle with perfect titles, who don't question being handed a camera and told to "shoot now and ask later," who take on bedtimes and overtime because of Twitter parties and project collaborations, and who almost always know exactly when to shut up and look pretty and when to say, "I'm proud of you, babe."

Secrets and Lice

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

"Hi Brenna. I've got Anna in here in my office and I think I've found a couple of nits in her hair. You don't have to pick her up, just check her over at home."

Anna's sailed through at least seven previous lice outbreaks—in all of her preschool rooms, in kindergarten, in camp and gymnastics. Her hair is always dirty and it's short. I'm not the type to carry hand sanitizer or to own Lysol (I know you guys are dying to come over now), I don't quietly blame other parents or kids if mine gets a cold or a stomach bug. Shit happens. When you have a kid, shit happens times infinity.

I checked her at home and found one adult louse and several nits. I texted the parents of her two best friends. I emailed her teacher. We combed, picked, Cetaphiled, combed, picked, checked, picked. We're still in the process of making sure she stays clear. My entire block is itchy. I've designated one biohazard hamper to toss her blankies and sleep stuffies. I've had to ask my first grade girl to not hug anyone and to sit still for hours while we comb and pick at her, and to quote a friend of mine, she's handling it like a Viking. Do you have any idea how much first grade girls hug? It's Woodstock all day long.

I know I share more than most and it's for a good reason—lots of people think they're alone in things, and I mean anything from picky eaters to hungover spouses. So I told Facebook about Anna's lice even knowing that several of her friends' parents would see it, even though it was the day before our Halloween party. You know what happened? I started getting messages from other parents in her class that they were also dealing with the outbreak.

I see these people every day, but no one wants to talk about lice. I respect that—no one wants to be a pariah. I also know that the scenario is completely different with older kids. But here's the other thing, parents of those still too young for Facebook: If we talk about it we can help stop it. Also, maybe that one annoying kid will stop asking for playdates.

We can't all shave our children and burn our houses to the ground, but maybe we can learn to be more open about our pestilence for the sake of other families. For the sake of all our sanity.

My Whole Neighborhood Is In This Parody

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

For months Steve and I have been trying to figure out the balance between letting Anna use the iPad and give us peace and quiet, and having her do more interactive things, like reading and giving us peace and quiet. She watches a lot of Nerdy Nummies and pop videos because her dad never makes her turn off pretty girls she loves to cook and dance, and Katy Perry's art direction is every first-grade girl's dream.

The week she decided to play "This is How We Do" on perpetual repeat, just before I snapped I realized how perfectly suited it was for a parody.

It took me three weeks and several friends to make it happen, and honestly you guys, I don't even know if it's funny. I've watched this so often and listened to the song so much that I dream in day-glo bubblegum Candy Land. SEE WHAT I MEAN?

Thanks to Allison Hart for her consult on the kitchen scene.

Monday, Party of Three

Monday, October 13, 2014

This entry is part of the Monday Mornings photo series Mommy Shorts created in partnership with Allstate, a company that is dedicated to helping families live the Good Life. You might not consider rushing kids out the door while choking down a half-frozen toaster waffle the Good Life, but I know you'll still find beauty in these morning routines.

In my twenties, I'd get out of bed at 8:00 a.m. and be out the door by 8:30. Remember those days? When you only had you to get ready and whatever, this thirty-cent frozen burrito will make a fine lunch. In my twenties I wore make-up and drank terrible office coffee. I'd take a twenty-minute train ride full of commuter germs to my office next to Fenway Park. On good days I didn't have to sidestep vomit or rats. In my twenties my built-in workout was a half-mile walk and third-floor cubicle.

Now I'm up by 6:30 most days and still rushing to get out of the house two full hours later. And I don't even bother with make-up anymore. I commute to my dining room table, but in between I've got to jockey for elbow space in my kitchen while my husband and I make lunches. I time my shower around his schedule knowing that regardless of when I climb in, my six-year-old will suddenly lose interest in the iPad and urgently need to pee. Now my built-in workout is the walk and gab-session with a pack of neighborhood moms to and from school each day. We grab our coffees and our kids and spend five blocks hurrying them up while wishing we had a few more minutes to talk before work kicks in. It's all very suburban and I wouldn't trade it for all the uncovered coughs and urban wildlife of my city commute.

I'm not the mom who's going to tell you to cherish every moment. You spend twenty precious moments each morning just begging someone to get their socks on, don't you? I don't know that I'll look back and miss yelling, "Tootsie Rolls are not breakfast!" but I know these elementary days are fleeting. This week I've noticed that Anna's too tall for almost all of her pants, and her face...there's something different. It's longer, more defined — she's a real kid. Still, I hope to look back at these photos someday and wonder when she was ever so small.

Here's a peek into my Monday. I shot these with the help of a self-timer and a spare husband (thanks Josh). Thanks to Mommy Shorts for including me in this series, it's always nice to think like a photographer again.

The morning iPad standoff. This is Steve's fancy man-robe. He's not psyched about this photo
Let's not talk about this room or the fringe
God bless her, she still believes my morning Facebook check is "work"
Preparing to pack her all-carbohydrate lunch
There is one cheese stick under all that starch
The shoe tying, it's a miracle
Her friends want to know why she's still in a "baby seat"
We were out of eggs and half and half, because Monday
The Kid Parade
The Mom Parade
Back at the office

Fall Stuff I Like
No Pumpkin Anything Edition

Thursday, September 25, 2014

This post is not sponsored, it's just fall, and each season I find myself changing wardrobes and learning to love new things (tights) and let go of others (shaving). Here's what I like lately — some of them are splurges but I never splurge unless: It will match everything else I own/I will wear, use or carry it almost daily/I can hide it from Steve.

1. Rent the Runway ($30-$300) I've rented two dresses and joined the Pro program because it saved me $50 on my anniversary rental. Granted, I could easily buy a nice frock or two at Marshalls for what it costs to rent one (mine were about $100), but I've never worn dresses that felt so amazing on my body. The customer service is excellent despite the lack of a published phone number. My emails are always met with a pleasant response and if needed, a quick reconciliation. I'm making up excuses to rent dresses now.

2. American Apparel leggings ($28-$38) I am not a small person, and I mean that (See below. That's me with a fully-grown adult man.) I'm almost six-feet tall and roughly 35-30-46. Dat azz makes it hard for me to find things like tights, undies, bikini bottoms (sub-shout-out to Athleta's Full Tide bottom), and leggings that fit well, don't bind and are long enough. I take an XL in these  and they are so comfy, they don't slide down, they haven't yet stretched out, and compared to the $12 pair I bought from Old Navy that tore in two wears and were capri-length on me, worth their price. I have both winter-weight and jersey versions and they are constantly on laundry rotation. These are a key part of my fall/winter Mom Uniform.

3. Pack-It lunch bag ($20) A friend recommended these to me when Anna's camp lunch kept getting hot during the day, and my daughter who eats exactly two food items would come home with most of her lunch intact because, "It got mushy." Her tin lunchbox felt like an armpit. You've got to remember to put the Pack It overnight in the freezer and you have to wash it by hand when it comes home full of grass clippings and stained with let's-not-even-ask, but it does what it says and keeps her lunch cool for hours. They also have excellent customer service.

4. Timolino tumbler ($25, I know, but read) I googled "best travel mug" and this was America's Test Kitchen's top pick. So I bought one for Steve, promptly filled it each morning before he could ("Why does my tea mug smell like coffee?" — Steve), and bought a second because he kept sulking at me. I am not lying when I tell you that I can fill this with coffee at 8 a.m. and still have a warm sip in the bottom at 3 p.m. I wouldn't close the lid and toss it full into a briefcase, but I can close the lid and shake it to mix the cream up without so much as a drop escaping. It's also fun to watch the people in line next to me shield themselves when I do that. The mouth hole fits a straw for cold drinks. I donated all my other travel mugs to Goodwill because I am a true philanthropist.

5. Hue Denier tights ($14) Like the AA leggings, these stay in place, and they're soft and cozy without being binding (as in, I can wear them without feeling like I should be strung up in a Little Italy shop window). They have a cotton crotch so Anna can watch me get dressed and then yell that I'm gross for not wearing undies, and probably tell her friends over lunch that her gross mom doesn't wear undies, and then I notice the principal looking at me disapprovingly or maybe I'm imagining that part.

6. This soup recipe ($10) Just make it, adjust the spiciness to your liking. You can find the paste in the ethnic section of almost any grocery store. You can even use veggie broth and get rid of the chicken for a vegan version that is just as good as the original. Give it to people you might need to help you move one day.

Lastly, there's a pair of knee-high, low-heeled black boots on my list, but I don't know how much I truly love them because I have to wait for Steve to do something REALLY dumb before I can justify buying them. I'll keep you posted. What are you guys into these days?

Ten Years and a Hundred Yeses

Thursday, September 18, 2014

You'll think about leaving when you can't stand his tone of voice or his running critique of your driving. You'll fantasize about what it might feel like to spend money without having to justify every purchase. You will wonder why he didn't comment on how obviously fantastic you look today. You'll want to smother him for snoring and leaving sealed lunch containers in the sink, and you'll calculate how many years you have left until the sound of his cereal crunching drives you criminally insane. You might imagine warming yourself by the fire you'll kindle with the hundreds of piles of papers and receipts he deposits all over the house. You dream of spending a full day in winter with the thermostat cranked into the seventies.

Still, you hug him while he folds the laundry and ogle him when he gets out of the shower. You tell him to take care on his motorcycle and schedule his doctor appointments. You cook his favorite food and buy the good beer, and you try to remember to get your wet towels off the bed before he gets home. You're secretly proud that he still gets carded even as you're called "ma'am," and not as secretly take some credit for how well he's aging. Even though you might never agree on a budget you try to spend less, and he learns that splurges are a necessary part of living. Each day without trying, you appreciate something about him — that he gets up early and works hard, that when he hears a tiny voice call for Daddy at 2 a.m., he goes, that he listens to you tell the same story ten ways to fifteen different friends without comment. That he understands you're just a little crazy sometimes.

Your first "yes" is the one that gets cake and a champagne toast, but the truth about marriage is that you will decide over and over again to say yes. Yes when it's not brand new anymore. Yes when the frozen slice of cake is long gone and the forks are tarnished. Yes when you're flat broke and on each other's last nerve. Yes when you've been hurt. Yes when the work never seems equal. Yes when all you want is space. Yes when there is no resolution. That early yes is important. It gets you here, and this place is really good. But there's devotion in these later yeses, there's time and joy and disappointment, there's knowing that marriage is a choice you make again and again.

Today marks ten years of yeses, and and I'd repeat every one.

The Benefits of Kvetching
About Your Husband

Monday, September 08, 2014

Every six months or so, the things that irk me about my husband all rear up at once and I spend a couple of weeks dwelling on them, scrutinizing them, and being generally aggravated. It's not fair, and I do my best to not pick a fight each time I feel like he's missed an opportunity to show me affection or pay me a compliment. I've known for fifteen years that this isn't how he shows love, yet I still get frustrated because for me these are simple gestures. Similarly, my husband would have sex ten times a week and there's not enough Red Bull in the world for me to manufacture that kind of energy.

When I post about Steve publicly, what I say is true. He's an involved dad, he does all our laundry and cleans out the shower drain, he lets me get my way most of the time (even when it means I have to sit through his trademarked lecture on budgeting like I don't know it verbatim), and he is always trying to improve himself and our lives. This is where his love is.

But when I post about Steve privately, that's true too. Or it's true under the influence of my frustration. I share with close friends or in private Facebook groups, or both if I feel like his current offense/mood/comments warrant a larger opinion pool.

Inevitably I feel a little bad about the rant minutes after it's out, I soften and point out that I know I'm lucky, that I have a hard-working, loyal husband who looks great holding a guitar. This is one benefit of oversharing — saying the things somewhere helps me get perspective on them. The other benefit is that always someone will want to make me feel better by offering a story about their own spouse, and wow, husbands.

Among my confidants there are no perfect matches, no one completing anyone else. It's revealing to see what we've each decided we can live with. There are compromises and frustrations and things that will never, ever be resolved. So I look at my gripes against Steve and my friends' gripes against their own husbands and I realize I've done pretty well. It's not because these other spouses are horrible, I know them to be mostly great. It's just that their not-so-great parts aren't things I could easily live with, and probably Steve's not-so-great parts aren't things some of my friends could live with.

Eventually my sour mood passes, stories about friends' husbands remind me of how little I tolerate from my own, and while "Oh God it could be so much worse" is no reason to jump at a marriage proposal, after ten years, sometimes it's just the reminder you need.

Self-Preservation and the
Oblivious Grade Schooler

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

This isn't going to be a sweet, poignant piece about watching kids grow, finding their own way in the world, every day leaving us more and more. No. This is going to be me, a fairly new parent, asking you, who've parented longer than my six years, when I can reasonably expect my kid to stop being so perilously oblivious to her surroundings. At what point do you think I'll be able to say, even twelve times instead of sixty-thousand, "Stay to the side. Watch for that intersection. Here comes a giant, loud, bright yellow school bus," and have her actually snap to attention? Because this week's experiment with riding a quarter blessed mile to school has ended only with multiple new grays and an escalating alcohol dependency.

"It was so much better in the 80s" nostalgia was fresh in my head after some Facebook quiz or other about Alf or Shrinky Dinks or some shit that I was probably too poor to have had anyway. "Let them free range, give them space, parents today are so overprotective." So I did, I let her ride her bike to school on Wednesday, and despite the thirty new gray hairs and hoarse voice, again on Thursday. She wore a very nowadays helmet and I did my best to hem her in against the grass for the trip from our driveway to the bike racks.

"HIIIII HANNAAHHHHH!!" she shouted gleefully as she veered into my right ankle. "WAIT UP EMMMIEEEEEE!" she giggled and sped ahead of me while swerving into the middle of the road. She doesn't think to look behind her as she maneuvers around parked cars and pot holes, she steers wobbly and one-handed with every wave, she is always, always looking anywhere but where she's going.

I don't have the constitution for this.

Our ride home Thursday afternoon wasn't the nag fest of our morning trip into school. I only corrected her when she drifted toward a minivan out of which dangled the arm of a classmate, flapping a disembodied good-bye. That night when she asked to ride with another girl up the short street directly across from the driveway where I was sitting with a friend I said, go ahead, kid — I'm no coddling, overprotective mom! I am all kinds of chill. After all, I was raised in the 80s.

I watched Anna and Katie ride up the small hill while my friend Steph talked into the side of my face. The girls looped around at the top, and then Anna stood on her pedals and started pumping her hardest back down toward us. She's forgetting she has to cross a street to get back over here, I knew. I bleeping knew. Steph knew too, and then we both saw headlights. I'm not sure who stood first or who yelled "STOP ANNA" loudest, but there we both were, flailing in the driveway, watching this kid head straight for a car.

Anna stopped after far too much shouting. The driver must have seen Steph and me standing there or he saw the girls on their bikes, and I don't know what it is that causes your immediate reaction to be, "Oh thank God she's safe NOW COME HERE AND LET ME THROTTLE YOU," but I could barely speak between clenched teeth as I told her she was done riding her bike for the entire long weekend. D-O-N-E done.

I didn't touch her or even yell, but she read me. She rode an atom's width from the curb on our trip home, looked straight ahead, listened to my direction. But for how long? Just a week earlier she'd done the same thing on foot, darting into a busy street when she spotted friends on the opposite side. We spend so much energy doing everything we can to keep our kids safe and alive, can't they throw us a goddamn bone once in a while?

I remember being a kid and doing dumb things. Sometimes I still do dumb things, but I also spend a lot of time trying to avoid dying. I just need a little confidence that some day Anna will work harder toward self-preservation. I need someone with older kids to tell me that eventually they at least become somewhat more aware of their surroundings, that they can understand peril without living in fear of their own mortality. And I need a sponsor, because if this keeps up much longer I'm going to have to start going to AA meetings.

A Million Brilliant Things

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

I was elbow-deep in the sink when my girlfriend texted me something about her son Jesse. Reading his name reminded me of the Carly Simon song. The memory makes me smile the way I do whenever music reminds me of my mom. I used to ask Mom the meanings to lyrics in the songs she'd sing along to: Linda Ronstadt, Elton John, Paul Simon. Even now I won't change the station when "Maggie Mae" comes on or "Me and Julio," no matter how my own daughter protests. My mom is 63 now, and I still have all these memories from back when she was the taller of us.

In June, when we knew that my friend Sarah wasn't going to get the miracle she deserved, that she wasn't going to pull through just this one more time, there were too many emotions to manage. Her daughter would come to play on the afternoons Anna and I were home and she has so much of Sarah in her — in the funny side-eye she'd give me when I said something silly, in her inflection when asking for more lemonade. Sarah had an abundance of patience and love for her kids, even on her bad days, even when she spent most of her time at different appointments, even when she couldn't be out of bed for very long. She was their mother in every molecule. She was a million brilliant things in her life, but what I saw from a house away, on our walks to school, at birthday and Halloween parties, was how much she belonged to them.

It's been over a month that Sarah's been gone, which seems impossible. These past weeks I've seen her walking around the block or at the farmers market, where she would usually be, where she still should be. I've almost texted her pictures of our girls playing together. I've picked up my phone and read through our old conversations; I welcome these ghosts.

Does Anna want to come over?
Feel like going for a walk?
I'm sorry you're in pain today.

The day before she died I went in to visit her. It was sacred and a privilege — her family might not know how I appreciated their welcome. The people who'd known her all her life surrounded her, serenaded her, and fortified her with all the love she gave, they replenished what her illness had cost her until she and her pain could finally part.

When I was leaning over the sink singing "Jesse" and thinking of my mom, I thought of Sarah. I wondered what her kids will remember when they're loading a dishwasher or pumping gas sometime in twenty or thirty years. I wonder how much will stay hard kilned, and what will soften and change shape with time. I wonder whether her absence will firm their memories. I wonder about all the ways they're already holding onto her.

Thirty-four years later I remember my mom explaining "Jesse" to me, and I know that in the time she was here with them, Sarah gave her kids a million brilliant things to remember her by, bright and living.

The Only Time My Husband Has
Stopped at Just One

The post you're looking for isn't here. I don't mean to send you away, it's just that I've been uninspired for so long and this blog has been left vacant for weeks, and I've finally churned out more than a two-sentence Facebook update that I thought you might enjoy. I also didn't want to be a douche and not link over to Dad and Buried's website, because that's just really bad blog etiquette.

So, you're one more measly little click or tap of the finger from reading all my selfish reasons (spoiler alert: sex, money and sleep) for having just one child on purpose. Here's the link!

Stop Telling People You Love Them

Friday, June 27, 2014

Don't tell someone you love them. They already know. They know because you talk to them or write, you send a card on their birthday. They know because you show up at their house, or because they're your mother or sister. Life is gorgeous and cruel and fragile, and we hear all the time, "Tell the people you love how you feel." But don't tell them you love them, that's for amateurs. "I love you" is the new "good bye" after a hurried conversation during your commute. Don't tell someone you love them.

Tell your mom how her homemade sauce always makes you feel like you know where you ought to be in the world. Tell her how much happiness you take in the way she loves your daughter, and that it makes you miss the days when you were small and she could love you in these same, unencumbered ways. Tell her you're trying to give your daughter the same effortless love so that she'll grow up wrapped in memories like security blankets. Tell your husband that every day you're amazed by how hard he works, that everything you enjoy in your home has his handprints on it, that your daughter is braver because of what he's taught her, and more beautiful for his long limbs and almond eyes.

Don't tell someone you love them. Tell your grandmother that you marvel at all she's endured, and that her resilience has always been something you aspire to. Tell her you'll make her famous, six-day sauerbraten recipe, and then really make it. Tell your children that they can do anything, ignoring the resigned, cynical voice in you that's decided it knows better. Tell them they're good people and loyal friends until they believe it. Tell your father that sometimes when you call to ask about car repairs, mostly you just wanted to talk. Thank your sisters for seeing you through what terrified you and for being your favorite and easiest source of laughter.

Tell your good friends that they're the best thing to happen to you since your sisters. Give them your time and a room in your heart. Value old loves for how they've changed you, their lessons and kisses and everything of theirs that lives in how you've loved since.

Don't tell someone you love them, tell them why they matter. Tell them they're alive in every part of you. Don't tell someone you love them, because life is gorgeous and cruel and fragile, and they deserve to know the ways that they'll live forever.

I Hope I Didn't Accidentally Emasculate You

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sometimes I'm not my best. Sometimes I'm careless, I don't use common sense, I've gone as far as being pretty shitty. But in context, on the whole, I think I'm good. I think I'm a friend you'd like to have. I'll bring you soup when you're sick, I'll come over when you're upset and you tell me not to bother, I'll watch your kids in a pinch and I won't judge your husband after you tell me for an hour straight what an asshole he was to you when work was stressing him out.

Sometimes my husband is careless too. Sometimes he screws up, doesn't use common sense, and while I can't say he's ever been truly shitty, at times he's really annoying. Because I'm a humorist, well, I turn all of this into jokes. And in between joking about Steve, I tell you about the time I ambushed him with four foster puppies, or volunteered him to help autistic kids learn to surf, and how he did it all with barely an eyeroll. How ultimately, he helped like he always does. The way a man does.

What Steve understands is that when I take a crack at him for the benefit of thousands of people on the Internet, it's because that's what I do. It's part of my life online. He deals with not having the opportunity for a "his side," and accepts that I elaborate and exaggerate for the sake of the gag. He knows that he's still going to get lucky later and that four posts from now he'll be my hero again.

It's this last part that I wish the men who occasionally stumble on a status or post of mine would get the hang of. Invariably when I make even an innocuous swipe at Steve or husbands, a man whose name I don't recognize appears in the comments. He might assume that I'm generalizing the whole of the male population, perpetuating the stereotype of the hapless husband and his exasperated wife. It's clear from his comment that he was looking to feel dismissed and persecuted, that he's read too much into my update, and that he wandered in from someone else's "Like."

This guy. I can always count on some version of him. I've stopped replying (mostly) because his agenda is set. I'd have an easier time getting the six-year-old to understand the value of diversifying her diet than defending myself to a white, middle-class, 21st century American man with oppression issues. And I'm certainly not going to paint myself or Steve as flawless parental specimens to avoid offending someone — you can all go read Goop if that's what you're into.

There are dad and mom bloggers rallying for the portrayal of fathers as competent, caring, involved parents. They do a great job of it and they're clearly being heard — yesterday I saw an ad for laundry detergent where the dad was in charge and there wasn't even a punchline, just a dad folding the wash and taking care of his kids. And it's my guess that the people working to update old notions of fatherhood are too busy being awesome to bother feeling offended by dishwasher innuendo on Facebook.

Giveaway: Lobster Pot Pie from
The Kennebunk Inn, Like Whoa

Monday, June 09, 2014

This is a sponsored post and giveaway in conjunction with BlogU. Don't leave, there's lobster pot pie in it for you. Photos courtesy of The Kennebunk Inn. This contest is now closed. Congrats, winner!

I'd asked Alicia from Naps Happen about 400 times, "Remind me where that lobster pot pie is that you always rave about?" As many times as she told me, I'd plan to visit The Kennebunk Inn but would get busy with other things, forget to go, or change plans. When Alicia's friend Shanna, who co-owns the inn and its restaurant with her husband Brian, signed on for a BlogU sponsorship, I somehow convinced them that their deal should include letting Steve and me spend a night and eat their food.

So back in March we dropped our kid with my mom and checked into a bright, welcoming room. Then we sat there staring at each other for an hour because it takes us time to adjust to not having someone relentlessly demanding things from us.

Eventually Steve decided to take a shower and I sprawled out and did my most favorite hotel thing — I fell asleep watching crappy cable shows because this girl knows how to party.

Here's the travel review stuff you want to know about our stay: the room was bright, clean, and comfortable, except in the morning, when it was dark, a mess, and comfortable because our stuff was everywhere and we had the blinds set to "I'm sleeping past seven if it kills me." There was a house-made banana bread and bottled water waiting for us on arrival. The building is located two doors down from my favorite area bagel place and near dozens of shops (the kind where they spell it "shoppe" and you die of quaintness). It's beautiful, historic, and very New England. I got lost in its halls at least twice even before I'd had any of the restaurant's delicious cocktails. Everyone who answered my phone calls and dealt with me in person was helpful and courteous, even as I clumsily bumbled through the explanation of why I was there, "Hi, I'm, um, Brenna? I uh, blog? I'm writing about the inn and restaurant and um, I'm here for free?" I felt like I was getting away with something the entire time.

Academe is the name of the inn's street-level restaurant. When I told a local friend we'd be staying the night she nearly swooned telling me how much she and her husband love the place. Shanna and Brian are both hands-on in the kitchen (and highly accomplished chefs in general; find them pretty much everywhere). Their staff can tell you anything you need to know about the menu, including what kind of drink you're in the mood for. I want to rave about my meal because it was truly delicious, but I stole Steve's plate halfway through dinner (in the interest of writing a well-rounded review, obviously) and can't actually recall what I ate except that it was seafood and it was cooked to perfection. I do remember that the way I shoveled homemade rigatoni with lamb ragu into my mouth was probably considered public lewdness.

If you're anywhere near Kennebunk or considering a visit, well, summer has finally freaking arrived here in the beautiful north and you know we kick ass at fall. Get yourself to the inn, tell Shanna I sent you, and be sure to order the dish they're famous for, the Maine Lobster Pot Pie. Would Oprah lie to you?

If you can't get to Maine, sad trombone, but you can enter here to win a lobster pot pie shipped right to your house (preferably when no one else is around so you don't have to share). Comment below just once with the name of your favorite summer spot. The winner will be picked at random on June 13th, 2014.

How Nerds Do The Prom

Thursday, June 05, 2014

High school wasn't awesome. I didn't love parking lot parties or underage drinking, I really didn't believe that my peers were having sex despite very PDA pre-class make-out sessions, and figured you could tell who smoked pot by their mullets and army jackets. My group of friends was small and, as I'd learn later in life, mostly gay.

Before the invites ever went out for my own prom, I'd watched my two sisters attend roughly 700 proms apiece across ten school districts on the arms of upperclassmen. It was exhausting to observe, and there was so much hairspray. Though I wasn't expecting to be asked to the prom, I still wanted to go. In a stroke of teenage brilliance, I used all the money I'd been saving for a trip to London to pull it off.

Come prom time, my friends and I had no interest in (or any idea how to begin) drinking but we did manage to create substantial high-school drama by a mid-plan group shuffle that started a grudge so powerful it led to the most momentous valedictorian speech in our high school's history. (This is the one portion of my entire long, boring graduation ceremony that no one in my family bothered to record.)

We went to the glittery, mirrored venue where we sat at a long table under a huge crystal chandelier. The music was bad, maybe we ate a little. We watched savvier kids leave early, off to more exciting, boozy plans. When it was over, we had our limo driver bring us from eastern Long Island to Central Park and back until we made our way home to the suburbs at sunrise. No one got drunk, arrested or pregnant. We were a parent's dream.

Our night was tame. I think the worst that happened was when the limo driver overheard me refer to him as cranky at some Long Island diner at 7:00am. I think even he was expecting something more exciting from the evening.

Want some tips for keeping your teen's prom night super chaste, safe, and sober? You're in luck!

1. Be sure your teenager has a huge crush on a guy who will be coming out any day now.
2. When the gay crush somehow ends up going to the prom with your teen's BFF, have the BFF set her up instead with a random cousin.
3. Be sure your teen and her BFF's random cousin have almost nothing in common.
4. See that BFF's random cousin has a really cute brother. This adds a layer of resentment to the evening.
5. Set up the most uncomfortable front-lawn photo of your daughter and the date she just met that minute.
6. Have your teenage daughter wear what amounts to a cumbersome bridal gown on what has the potential to be the most scandalous night of her high school career.
7. Ask whether anyone in your child's prom group has seen genitalia aside from their own or during that one really awkward health class.
8. Hire a limo driver a the last minute who is clearly Not In The Mood For This Shit. His glare alone will keep passengers out of the mini bar.
9. Suggest they go to romantic spots like Central Park and the beach at sunrise. This will reinforce the fact that your teen and her date have zero chemistry.
10. Make sure one guy in the limo looks just like Morrissey to dampen any party mood.

The good news is I really did have fun. We took a then-unadvisable trip through Central Park in the dark morning hours and stayed up until sunrise for what may have been one of only four times in my life. The next year I went to the prom with my hot gay crush, sans crush, in the same dress, but with purple hair to match his tie. And for the second straight year, I didn't come home pregnant.

This post is written for NickMom in conjunction with their paid sponsorship of the BlogU blog conference.  I take full responsibility for my string of crushes on gay men. In my defense, none of them were officially out at the time.

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say
You're Not Going to Get Lucky Tonight

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Husbands, we love you. In fact, I was really conflicted about even writing this post because I know I lucked out when I decided fifteen years ago that my scrawny, bald roommate had boyfriend potential. He's got all that good stuff: honesty, loyalty, brains, an almost complete lack of ego, a ridiculous work ethic, and as a bonus, I enjoy watching him change his clothes.

But, you know, none of us is perfect, and I have to believe that as long as we recognize all the good, we've got a pass for commiserating about the bad and ugly. What I'm offering you today, husbands, is a lesson in appropriate honesty. I'll call it When to Either Lie or Shut the Fuck Up 101. Next time you bemoan your lack of spontaneous kitchen sex, consider whether you've committed one of these infractions.

Here are a couple of scenarios:

1. Your wife is modeling a dress she bought that she is obviously feeling confident and sexy wearing. She asks, "What do you think?" If, say, this dress is sleeveless and you prefer sleeves, short and you prefer long — pay close attention here — your wife does not give one good goddamn. Read her face, her tone, her gestures. After years together you should totally have this one. Your reply should indicate that her appearance pleases you. Depending on your usual style of banter you might say something like, "You look beautiful," or, "I'd definitely bend you over my tailgate in that." Your wardrobe preferences are irrelevant, your honest opinion is uncalled for. You need to keep that bullshit to yourself.

2. At noon your wife says, "I'll see you in a couple hours, I'm going to get my hair cut." You, being the wonderful, equal partner that you are, think nothing of parenting solo while she's out. You don't text her during her appointment unless someone is on fire. Maybe you even throw in a load of wash while she's gone. You, sir, are squarely on the BJ track.

At two she returns home, still your wife but slightly glossier, with a little more spring in her step. Protocol dictates that you should immediately comment on her hair, but let's say you've been waiting to go mow the lawn and you breeze past her before she's even dropped her keys. Later, when you notice she smells different and remember that she had her hair done, your reaction ought to be, "Sorry babe, your hair looks really nice." Because again, "Did you even have anything cut off? It hardly looks different," or, "Wow, you went short," are unhelpful observations. And you were doing so well earlier.

One more thing: if you make a big enough gaffe, we are fully capable of becoming upset even to the point of tears at any time of the month. It's always a best practice to not blame our menstrual cycle for your misstep.

Guys, I've got your backs on this. I want nothing but success for you. I want you to take care of my girlfriends because they really love you. I want you to have the relationships you deserve. And I want you to understand that sometimes, all you have to do is keep your mouths shut.

Protecting My No

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I don't say no easily. This is why I'm currently in charge of maintaining the PTA website and am running a Daisy troop that's one girl over the official ratio. It's why there are 46 containers of Play-Doh in my living room. It's why the local girls' softball team has twenty of my dollars and why I'm constantly burying copies of The Watchtower in the bottom of my recycle bin. Hell, it's why I have a kid.

I thought I'd be better at saying no. Growing up I was often frustrated that my mom never seemed to refuse anyone, and was constantly giving people rides or covering shifts or taking in relatives with no where else to go. She still does it, plus now she's constantly inundated with other people's children — mine included. I come from accommodators, it's in my genes.

So when I do say no, I have important reasons. When I say no, I've considered all other options, including "maybe" and "not right now." I've quickly run through scenarios and consequences. I've contemplated the outcomes of yes and have decided that they don't override my discomfort with no. It's not that I want to let you down. I don't want you to feel dismissed or hurt, my no isn't about you, it's based on a complex series of probabilities and experiences.

Sometimes no is met with a frown or grumble: No, you've had plenty of candy before bed. No, I don't have time to run to the post office for you tomorrow. No, I'm not making lasagna because it's such a pain in the ass that I'd almost rather have actual anal sex.

I understand those brief rebuttals. What I don't need is a debate, I don't want a guilt trip or a multi-sentence exchange justifying my no. We aren't discussing why you can't stay up another hour, I'm not apologizing for not being in the mood right now or explaining at length why I'm not going to open a credit card with your store today. My no deserves respect, dammit. My no is never easy.

I like to yes. Yes makes everyone happy, yes makes me a hero, yes makes me santa and the ice cream man all at once. But sometimes yes makes me tired or overbooked or frustrated with myself for not protecting my time or my convictions. I'm trying, I'm working on the balance between yes and no. I'm learning that often, a decisive no hurts everyone less than a reluctant yes.

Another View From the World of
the Suburban Mom

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I just replied to a text from a friend inviting me over for dinner because she knows my kid didn't sleep last night, ended up in my bed, and kept me awake for four hours. Another was checking in because I also kept said child home from school "sick" when I was too exhausted to fight off her whines and pleading this morning. "Is Anna feeling okay?" As a matter of fact, she's fine. I'm about to fall face-first into my own lap and am currently debating whether I should have a cup of tea and risk ruining tonight's sleep for the sake of being coherent when my husband walks through the door in half an hour.

Unlike the author of the discouraging article about suburban motherhood and friendships I just finished reading, I didn't move to the suburbs after we started our family. I moved to the suburbs when my husband dragged me here after he'd grown tired of dealing with Boston traffic and the college students surrounding our condo who regularly used our car as an extension of the sidewalk. Our daughter was a belated and unexpected housewarming gift.

At first I was just a woman looking for friendship. I was freelancing and drove to gigs in Boston almost weekly and I'd squeeze in lunch or coffee with friends. Our neighborhood then was populated mostly by retirees — wonderful people who welcomed us and then went about home improvements and visits from the grandkids. The people our age seemed to all have babies or were expecting. I visited my sister in Maine a lot.

Once Anna arrived I set about finding friends like it was my job. There was a local moms group that I joined, screwed up the time of my first meeting, showed up as everyone else was leaving, and then accidentally flung my sucked-out shrimp tail down a member's cleavage when I finally did make it to a dinner event a few weeks later. I felt neither unwelcome nor a sense of instant camaraderie. I took it for what it was: a group of moms who were somewhat familiar with one another, who had a decent amount of disposable income, and happened to live in the same geographic region. I went in knowing that just like love, real friendships tend to just kind of happen. At 34 I knew what I wanted in a friend and I knew I'd be incredibly lucky to find it at what amounted to a mom dating event.

That night we had a private room and a guided beer tasting. I got the shrimp throwing out of the way early to break the ice and had lovely conversations with the women seated nearest. It was enough for me to get a feel for the community and I left with an idea of which of the moms were most my type. A month later my dues lapsed and I didn't attend any more nights out.

Ultimately, it wasn't the moms group where I made the very real friendships I am so grateful to have now. It was offering an acquaintance a ride to the repair shop, it was posting some maternity clothes on Freecycle, it was volunteering to help with the neighborhood block party and accepting an impromptu invitation to a lesbian dance club. There was no formal admission to an established group or monthly dues or even solid plans.

Making friends is as much about you as it is about the people you seek out. You decide how invested you want to be and how hard you want to chase it, you cultivate the type of friends you need and avoid the ones you don't, you decide whether or not having someone to grab coffee with is worth navigating cliquey, political bullshit. Maybe it's a difference in location or median income, but I either haven't encountered the kinds of cliques the Boston Magazine article is based on, or maybe I've been too busy making friends to notice.

Enough Already With Elsa

Monday, March 24, 2014

I have a vague memory of the Christmas that my sister got a Cabbage Patch Kid when we other two girls didn't. I don't think I wanted one, but had a notion that people were going batshit crazy for the things and that my aunt had visited both an ancient oracle and a witch doctor just to find out which Toys R Us would have them in stock on a given Tuesday.

Every year I watch people on Black Friday cram themselves through sliding doors to pummel each other toward high-def televisions in the true spirit of the season. I'd smugly snicker with everyone else at lines wrapped around Apple stores for whichever shiny, new gadget I'd end up buying three months later.

My sanctimony was as thick as the smell of people who've spent three nights on the sidewalk outside Best Buy.

And then Frozen happened, and the request for a Frozen-themed birthday party, and while it's established that I'm pretty laid back in my parenting style, it's also understood that I lose my fucking mind over birthdays (I actually enjoy this temporary insanity, it's one of the few times a year my husband just rolls his eyes and shuts his mouth while I spend money on coordinating piƱatas and cake plates).

And oh, Anna wants to dress up as Elsa. That's irony, Alanis.

Now, when I say I'm crazy about birthdays, please don't mistake me for the level of crazy that would throw down $250 for a Disney-licensed Elsa dress on eBay, where people who stalk Target's loading docks to intercept new shipments cash in on the tears of a million little girls. No, I'm crazy but I have principles, dammit.

I bought her a $40 pageant dress that I'll staple some shimmery scrap of fabric to. My cousin is braiding a blond wig she wore as Lady Gaga for Halloween and shipping that with a pair of sparkly flats. I ordered the cake to save time, and I'll hang our Christmas lights over the appetizer table for ambiance. Her guest list is limited to family — my sister birthed a child army so I'd never have to invite the whole kindergarten class to a party.

It's the gift that's bringing my crazy to the tipping point. All she's asked for is this dinky little $6 figurine, but like all things Elsa, it's nowhere to be found. I've been ducking into Targets, running through Toys R Us and braved two separate Walmarts on a Saturday. I group-texted friends to be on the lookout, and I'm considering setting up a hunting blind at the...I've said too much.

It's less crazy if you know it's crazy, right? RIGHT?

She may or may not get the doll, but she'll have her party and I'll eat my leftover cake for breakfast and everyone will be happy except my husband, who will remind me for the eleven-billionth time that all he ever had as a kid was "some ice cream cake and a song." Then I'll eat his cake too, and that's not a euphemism.

My Smugness Comes From Years of Experience

Thursday, March 06, 2014

One day back in my happily childless twenties, I visited my favorite produce market on a Saturday when the place was so crowded I popped three tomatoes just trying to shimmy down an aisle. I passed a woman with a full grocery cart and two elementary-aged kids and thought, "God, why would she bring them here on a Saturday?" A minute later, her little girl tried to ride the cart and tipped the whole contraption, distributing melons and imported dates across three aisles.

Waiting in the fancy cheese line, I stood patiently as the man in front of me held his daughter up so that she could sample several varieties of cheddar, and wondered, "Does this asshole realize there are six people behind him? Can't he culture this kid on a quiet Tuesday?"

Today I watched a conversation on a friend's Facebook page where several moms tried explaining to one twenty-something woman why we bring our children, you know, out in public, like, ever, and later in the thread, why we choose to have children at all.

Maybe you've noticed that lately the Internet has been pretty harsh toward us parents. We can't do right on planes, in restaurants, museums, we complain too much, we don't enjoy it enough. Our kids are either monsters or milksops, spoiled rotten or thoroughly neglected. Apparently we weren't being judgmental enough of each other, so anonymous strangers have risen to the occasion.

It's not hard to be smug. If I really wanted to, I could give it back and better — I've been a childless twenty-something. I've lived in cities, shared public transportation with strollers, eaten next to fussy babies. I didn't want to have kids, but I managed to make my decision without basing it on some superficial opinion of people I read about on the Internet. I was able to conclude that maybe parenthood wasn't my bag for well-thought-out reasons, not because one time a kid threw a tantrum next to me in Starbucks.

The childfree who take such satisfaction in the wholesale dismissal of parenthood have zero idea what it is to have a kid — no stop, don't even argue. Please. Periodendofstory. I don't say this to people when they wonder why anyone who'd complain about spending Saturday night contracting Black Plague at Chuck E. Cheese's ever reproduced in the first place. I don't wag my knowing finger and tsk, "Oh, you'll see, honey. Around the same time you realize how silly those enormous glasses make you look and stop with the pioneer beard, you'll see what an amazing gift children are. You'll understand that for every shitty, dry birthday party where all they serve is Walmart cupcakes and boxes of Hi-C, there are a million sparkling bursts of joy." That would just be condescending.

No, I'm content to keep that piece of satisfaction to myself and instead diplomatically explain that I really do enjoy bringing my five-year-old to the grocery store, because she loves the free slice of cheese at the deli and she can read all of the cereal boxes now, which is incredible. I remember my twenty-five-year-old self and I know I'd have had little understanding of this. When I was in my twenties, a co-worker lost her three-year-old to a genetic disorder. I knew intellectually that it was tragic and that she was heartbroken, but it's only now that I can comprehend the depths of her devastation and marvel that she ever returned to our office.

I don't think I'm any better than those who haven't yet or who've decided to never reproduce — some of my favorite people are gleefully unencumbered by offspring — and I don't evangelize for breeding. I also don't bother myself with concerns over what people half my age do with their lives, and I won't condemn an entire demographic based on random public interactions or some poorly composed viral headline.

Maybe I'm singing a tune that's only familiar to my contemporaries, but what's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?

Parenting Ad Hoc

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I rolled out of bed a luxurious half hour after my family one weekday morning, hearing Steve making his tea and packing leftovers for lunch, the sound of his heavy work boots tromping over the voice of the weather man announcing probably more snow. By the time I made it down the hall to the living room, Steve was in the bathroom and Anna was alone on the couch. The weather report had ended, and the news anchors were breathlessly recounting the latest fire/school shooting/drug-fueled crime spree. I could see she wasn't fully paying attention, but she'd recently been asking a lot of questions about fire and I didn't need a sensationalized news report getting her any more anxious.

When Steve came back into the room I asked if he could be more mindful of what's on the television when the 5-year-old is present, and he muttered something like "Not a big deal" or "The real world" or something, and I refrained from kicking him in the tender, post-vasectomy testicles.

This is ad hoc parenting. These are the things you didn't think to talk about when you were deciding on education and religion, corporal punishment, circumcision, disposable vs. cloth, and savings accounts. If you thought agreeing on your baby's name was a struggle, wait until you realize that you and your partner have completely different views on your toddler's eating habits.

In our house, Steve is very strict around dinner time: Sit, use a fork, napkin, no hugging during meal times, clean your plate. My philosophy is sit, put food into your body until you don't want any more, but don't think two rigatoni are going to get you dessert. I let her hug me and listen for Steve's heavy sigh, then I joke about him being raised in a Russian orphanage.

On the other hand, I want that kid in bed at 7:30, and Steve is very flexible about bedtime. Stories usually creep past the 8:00 mark while I bide time waiting for my adult company to return to the couch.

You don't sit down and hash out these parenting decisions, you make them on the fly and sometimes resign yourself to your partner's methods because you know this is a shared responsibility and ultimately you trust their parenting. Mostly. On occasion, you'll mutter, "She's not going to go soft because I let her hug me at dinner."

The only way to prepare for this is to know that you can't prepare for it. You'll find yourself in it, living it, arguing about it, and then finally coming to some kind of agreement, even if it's tenuous one. It's a compromise, just like every other part of sharing your life and space with other people.

I know sometimes it's hard for Steve to let go of his tendencies and submit to my parenting style and I might never understand some of the battles he picks. The important thing is that we give each other the trust and respect to make decisions independently of each other. Based on how the five-year-old is turning out, I think so far we're doing all right.

A Letter to My Husband on the
Approach of Valentine's Day

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hi Honey,

Listen, I'm with you on this being a fabricated holiday. I get it. But I'm still sitting here shoving pencils through paper hearts for Anna to bring to school because apparently candy is now as big a faux pas as store-bought cards. These make her happy and her little friends will enjoy sword fighting with the pencils until they lose circle time privileges.

I knew you weren't a romantic when I met you and babe, I'm a cynic too. Hallmark can spare me the soulmates line and the meant-to-be business. I was twenty-five and crazy about you, and you were like, "Cool," and our match was made. I knew you'd grow to love me.

I do have a point, and I'm very slowly getting there.

You always take care of me, so even though I can count on one finger the times you've surprised me with wine and cheese after a bad day at whatever crappy job I had in 2002, the fact that you work so hard to improve our lives — the way you do the laundry without being asked, that you never complain when I leave you with Anna for hours, or how you lift all the heavy stuff so I don't have to — trumps your deficit of sentimentality. I joked about the garbage disposal you installed for my birthday but I really do appreciate it and I'm sorry for being such a brat about that new car.

The generator you got me for Christmas was great too and I'm thisclose to learning how to turn it on without blowing up the electrical panel you spent so long meticulously wiring. You do all of this because you're a good man, practical to your very marrow. I've learned that hard work is the currency of your affection.

So when I ask if you want to "do something" for Valentine's Day, you should know me well enough to understand that I am not hoping for some contrived overture that includes waxy drug store chocolate and a hot tub date scene out of "The Bachelor". What I'm saying is that I'd like you to sometimes ignore all your sensible tendencies and get a little corny just because it'll make me happy. It's like Anna's been singing non-stop for two months now: Let it go.

Once a year I want a back rub that isn't a segue. I'd like you to spoon me to sleep with both your hands above the equator. I want you to be the one to call in the reservation then agree to be my designated driver and not balk at the two thirteen-dollar drinks it'll take to get me into the passenger seat. I want your hand on my knee while you drive even though your callouses snag my tights. There must be a view around here we could go enjoy, and when I suggest it I'd like you to not joke about how I won't be able to see anything anyway with my head in your crotch.

Actually that's pretty funny, you can keep that in play.

Honey, let's just be dumb for each other this Valentine's Day and if it'll make you feel better, I'll let you tile the shower on Saturday.


The Love That Keeps You Married

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

I love my husband this week. This week, I look across the room at him and think, "How long can I safely assume Anna would stay glued to that iPad right now?" This week I want to tell his bosses what a dedicated employee he is and tell Anna to stop saying that she loves me better because I let her have hot cocoa after school. I want to make his favorite dinner even though it's so packed with fat that I can't go near it. I'll tell him I'm proud of his work, that he's a great dad and husband, that sometimes when I joke about my friends wanting to get in his pants I'm kind of serious and maybe a little concerned. This week he's getting more random hugs, less sarcasm, and lots of appreciation.

1997. Strictly roommates.

Last week I wanted to beat him with the pillow he hugs to sleep and which inevitably ends up making its way onto my face when he lets go of it in the middle of the night. He couldn't say a thing that didn't annoy me, he was full of sarcasm and tone, he'd been sick and stressed and brought all of it into the house after work. All I could see were the piles of crap he makes on every surface in the house and the pile of dishes he ignored before work. His coughing annoyed me, the tissues everywhere annoyed me, the way he spoke to Anna led me a few times to break the cardinal parenting rule of not contradicting your partner in earshot of your children.

Steve is much more steady in things like this than I am. He doesn't get annoyed like I do. I don't consider myself moody, but I might walk around tense and aggravated and bottled up, I keep it in especially when I know I'm being unfair. Usually my first indication that he's stressed or tired is that he stops trying to grope me every six seconds. And even when I'm such an irrepressible rag that I don't want to hang out with myself, he wants me around. Two weeks ago when I couldn't stand the sight of his wet boots tipped over at the back door, I thought about taking off to my mom's for the day, just for some space, just to miss him again.

And I would miss him, I'd call an hour later and apologize for being so crabby, because as much as I know I'm right about his tone and how heinous it is of him to pile crumpled receipts on his dresser, I also know precisely when I'm overreacting or letting some deep-seated resentment create an uncalled for defensiveness in my reactions. Usually this happens when we talk about money -- like when Steve so much as innocently asks, "Do you know how much you spent on stuff this week?" and I freak out about feeling lorded over despite the fact that to date we have not had to relocate to my station wagon.

The thing is, none of this is even a blip in our state of the union. I know these episodes will cycle over and over, that there will always be times I can't get close enough to him and times when an entire state doesn't seem big enough for us both. Yet I feel like these are exactly the things the uninitiated will point to as a rut or an incompatibility, those people who believe that love is a balm for everything, and that "real love" doesn't struggle. Heading into our 10th anniversary and our 15th year together, I'm less naive. Real love's got this on lock. Real love keeps this in perspective and doesn't anticipate bliss in every moment.

A friend's grandfather told her, "The love that gets you married isn't the same love that keeps you married." But no one's going to dance to that at their wedding reception.

The Art of Appreciation

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Possibly the highest item on my list of parenting goals is to not raise an asshole. I know we have years left to work on that, but right now my almost-6-year-old seems to be dabbling in douchebaggery at a reality television level.

Lately it seems like nothing is good enough, fun enough, delicious enough, anything enough. If we spend 5 hours at the McDonald's Playspace — which we won't because while I believe in vaccinations I also understand that bleach on a dirty mop doesn't actually sterilize a fresh trail of vomit — what she'll remember on the drive home is that I didn't get her an ice cream sundae.

Yesterday on our ride to school, one of Anna's best friends gave her a necklace she'd made on that loom everyone got their kids for Christmas and immediately regretted. "Ellie, you didn't use all the colors I like," was the first thing out of her mouth. I wondered whether my mom would have just slammed on the brakes and let the back of her seat hit me in the face or if she'd have slapped me herself.

I had neither a free hand or the ability to stop short for effect since only one of the children in the back seat belonged to me. I wasn't even sure if reprimanding her on the spot was appropriate but I was incensed by her total lack of graciousness. Where is my sweet, thoughtful daughter? Who is that little shit in my back seat? "Anna you tell Ellie that bracelet is a wonderful gift and you thank her for all her hard work right this second," I said with no space between my words or my teeth.

I have a high parental tolerance; I can take whining, sobbing, nagging, I can take little girls arguing over who gets to be Elsa this time or shrieking at invented ghosts. I've lived through colic and poop strikes, weeks of wasted dinners, tantrums in Target, I voluntarily sang fake ethnic songs at a mommy-and-me music class for shit's sake, but I cannot tolerate ingratitude.

This lesson is an important one, and I don't want her to be appreciative only for the sake of the other person or just because I tell her to. Understanding the value of a gesture, the connection created by even the smallest token from one friend to another, beyond even the common decency of appreciation are the bonds we make in giving.

Giving and getting gratitude I think is one of the great joys of interacting with other humans. She must know this, she's forever making cards and little gifts for people with so much care. When I asked her at Christmas to draw something for the mailman she wrote, "I love you because you bring the mail." It was a bit over the top but clearly she's not a sociopath. She can be so thoughtful.

If you do it right, there's equal joy on either side of gratitude. I think sometimes she gets it, but maybe at 5 I'm expecting too much.

I Almost Broke My New Year's Resolution Writing This

Sunday, January 05, 2014

I never officially plan to make a New Year's resolution. When I have, they've not been very original: eat less junk, be kinder, workout more. I think the problem is that I'm not displeased enough. I like me, I'm easily contented.

But sometimes Steve will pass a comment about my face being "buried in your laptop" and those get me, because he doesn't ask for much and I can tell it's something that bothers him. I want him to know that I'm interested in his company and don't want my kindergartner to think that what I'm doing online is more riveting than she is (though honestly the story about how Olivia got to play Mother Mary in the school pageant is like two years old and getting pretty tired). I don't want her to grow up believing that nodding at a screen is an acceptable way to interact with someone in the same room.

The computer is a lot of things for me. Because I work alone at home and desperately miss office banter, it's my water cooler. Because I have friends living in all kinds of time zones with offspring at every stage, it's my long-distance call. It's where I read the news, it's where I do all of my job work and my side work, it's where I have really interesting conversations with friends I've never met. I unwind here and I learn things here every day. I think the web is an amazing, collaborative space. I'm not striving to be hands-free, just to remember what I used to do before my life online (which I'm guessing was watch television and make shitty relationship choices because I was in my 20s).

The Internet is a big part of my routine, and though my house is reasonably tidy, dinner is cooked each night, the cupboards are stocked, child hugged and read to, husband given all those things husbands so enjoy, I am showered and dressed, bills paid, appointments scheduled and pets fed, and I feel productive, I know I can cut back.

So I asked Steve what concrete things I could do to improve this habit of mine. He said what drives him the most nuts is when we're out, I take photos and post them, and he thinks sometimes I'm more focused on making content than on the moment — he rolled his eyes into his brain stem when I joined Instagram. I do think about content, I love putting out stories that people will laugh with or relate to. I explained that and so we compromised — I'll take photos, but not post or check anything otherwise when we're out together. Done.

I also plan to once again institute my after-work blackout policy. I try, from when I finish work until Anna's in bed, to not engage online — no laptop, no phone, no iPad. We don't watch television much at all (we don't have cable because we're cheap, not because we're those insufferable people who have no TVs and tell you ALL ABOUT IT), so in a week you'll be able to see the spick-and-span gleam on my house from space.

We'll see how it goes. The changes are small, but they'll take some willpower. Realistically, I'm not going to cut back on using devices and with my new spare time go and re-tile the bathroom, but if I'm modeling better things for my kid and causing my husband less agita, that'll be enough of an accomplishment for me.

Did you make any resolutions this year?